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Question DetailsAsked on 12/3/2013

Can i save money by finishing my basement piecemeal rather than hiring a general contractor?

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3 Answers


I think you are talking about hiring each trade yourself rather than a General Contractor. Yes you could but generally most subs (plumber, electrician, drywall and such) give a better price to a repeat customer (the GC). If you know all the steps involved to help each trade work with each other so nothing has to be torn out for another trade because it was done too soon you might save a bit. Will you be around to answer any questions that come up durring the day? And some suppliers give a better price to contractors. It is not as easy as it seems.


Answered 6 years ago by ContractorDon


Assuming you are talking a significant amount of work, what Don said is right. Not only are you not likely to save much money, but scheduling will be a BIG problem - subcontractors will not want to hear from you (after initial look-see) until the job is READY for them, because they know homeowners cannot keep a job on schedule. Of course, a lot of that is their fault - contractors will always do work for the general contractors first to keep their base cashflow source happy, and fit the homeowner-run jobs (who are only one-time customers typically) when they can. Therefore, instead of a steady work flow and fairly rapid completion, you will be start - work - stop - wait for next contractor to fit your job in, at each step along the way. I have seen what would be less than one month jobs like yours with a GC take well over two years twhen the homeowner acts as GC, and many never do get finished - like the house I moved into, which had a partly finished basement for 3 years because the previous homeowner (the original new home buyer) took the house with the downstrairs/garage unfinished from the builder to try to save money.

And as Don said, any delay due to the jobsite not being ready for them, or having to tear out some work to gain access for their part, will add to your cost - potentially dramatically if things like plumbing or duct work or insulation were omitted from the scope up front and have to be retrofitted.

Long story short - between the extended construction time, hassles on your part, delay costs due to miscommunication or contractors not being able to get hold of you for answers (or you not knowing the answers when they call), and the opportunity for a contractor to take advantage of your lack of knowledge about construction, I would say save yourself the grief and write off the 10-15% of so General Contractor markup as peace of mind money. Generally, unless you have years in the general building trades and house construction experience already, you are not ready to act as GC.

Another factor - acting as GC yourself will make city inspection much more detailed and picky, and your insurance company might bite you in the tail by refusing to insure the upgrade if it is not professionally built and signed off on by a GC or architect. I had a neighbor have this happen with a large addition - insurance company dropped his coverage until he had an architect and structural engineer issue a report that it was built to code and sound.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD


It is people that try to do it themselves first and fail that make us (contractors) a lot of money. Also, people hiring cheap laborers instead of professionals. We usually gut everything they did, and hired out, and start over because it is so screwed up. Like LCD said, if you mess up the schedule and have the trades in the job at the wrong times you will be paying them twice. There are so many hassles and headaches contractors deal with on a day to day basis that customers never realize. It's our job to make sure everything runs as it should, is built to code, stays on budget and that none of the sub-contractors try to slide in sub-par work. It happens all the time. Just getting the subs to show up when needed is a job in itself. Then making sure the work is done properly can be a chore. Do you have the cash to do all of this work? Some banks will not lend money on large scale projects without an architect and/or contractor on file for the job. You need to be available at all times and, being a homeowner with no previous relationship with the sub-contractors, should probably be on-site at all times. There are issues that come up several times a day and you need to be able to give an answer or alter the plans at a moment's notice or be willing to pay all of the affected sub-contractors for their lost time while you figure it out.

In the end, you will very likely spend well more than you would have spent with a general contractor and probably won't have nearly as good of a product. Can it be done? Sure, but you need to know building code front and back as well as have the reserve funds in hand when you go over budget.

Answered 6 years ago by Todd's Home Services

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